UTEP Men’s Basketball 2021-22 Mega Season Preview
It's finally time to talk some UTEP basketball!
The Miners men's basketball team is fresh off a roller coaster of an offseason that started back in March following the resignation of former coach Rodney Terry and the eventual hire of Joe Golding at the helm. The UTEP basketball season gets underway officially on Tuesday evening, as the squad hosts Western New Mexico at the Haskins Center.
Fast-forward to November, the Golding era is getting ready to tip-off for the 2021-22 season.
“Our goal is to unite,” Golding said. “We're trying to unite the program. We're trying to unite the city. Something that's been with me for a long time is trusting the process. Continue to trust our players and trust the process and see the big picture. I think our community needs to trust the process and see the big picture because we're going to get there.”
“As a coach, I have a vision of exactly what I want,” Golding continued. “I get frustrated sometimes because it's not there right now. There has been growth. There have been some really good things.”
MinerTalk & UTEP Basketball
MinerTalk is back for another season of UTEP men's basketball. Along with Sal Montes, we will take phone calls and messages from listeners after every Miner men's basketball game.
MinerTalk is presented by the Oscar Arrieta Agency—a proud UTEP sponsor and local insurance agency. A big thanks to Keats Southwest for bringing us the Hot Hand of the Game award, and another big thanks goes to Win Supply El Paso for our Player of the Game award.
Basketball Program overview
- 101st season of UTEP basketball
- Arena: Don Haskins Center (11,892 capacity)
- 1966 NCAA Tournament Champions (1st men's title in Texas)
- Last tournament appearance: 2010
- Last NCAA tournament win: 1992 (vs. Kansas, 66-60)
- Miners in the NBA: Nate "Tiny" Archibald, Jim Barnes, Derrick Caracter, Antonio Davis, Greg Foster, Tim Hardaway, David Lattin, Nolan Richardson, Julyan Stone, Jason Williams, Willie Worsley, Dave Feitl, Arnett Moultrie, Vince Hunter
"I'm humbled and honored to be the coach at UTEP," Golding said. "You look at the track record and there haven't been that many coaches in here because they have had so much success. There was a time in the early 2000s where it went quick but that was because this program was at an elite level and they had a lot of success. That's what we're after."
One of the early drawbacks, however, has been the perception of the program on a national scale. Golding says that the feedback he received during the recruiting process and over the offseason was a bit dismissive toward UTEP as a brand.
"I was a little disappointed, to be honest," said Golding on the perception of UTEP on a national level. "I remember the UTEP of when I was growing up and the coach Haskins days, the coach Gliispie, the coach Sadler days, the coach Barbee days, the early stages of coach Floyd... that's not UTEP right now. People don't think of UTEP as a championship-caliber program. That's our job. To get it back."
"That's why I've spent so much time in the community. Give them [fans] a breath of fresh air and some new energy and get people excited about UTEP. We need our students. We need this community." - Joe Golding
A look back to 2020-21
As much as people want to brush aside last year – or the last three years for that matter – the 2020 season had a ripple effect that we are still feeling. After the Miners bowed out in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament, rumors started to spill on social media about Terry taking an assistant job under Chris Beard at Texas. He finished a three-year run at UTEP with a 37-48 overall record (.435) including a 19-33 record in C-USA.
The squad finished 12-12 (8-8 C-USA) in 2020-21, which was the best season under Terry. Prior to accepting the assistant coach Texas job, Terry signed an extension in October of 2020 that would have tied him with the school through the 2024 season. UTEP struggled to maintain continuity with their roster year after year under Terry. In addition, the squad failed to win a single C-USA tournament game during his time at the program.
Golding era begins
Then came Joe Golding.
The former Abilene Christian coach became the 20th coach in men’s basketball history. Golding holds a 158-144 all-time coaching record and took ACU to the last two NCAA Tournaments that were played. This past March, Golding’s Abilene Christian squad stunned No. 14 Texas in the opening round of the tournament.
He won the Miner coaching job over other finalists like NM State head coach Chris Jans, Baylor assistant Jerome Tang, Arkansas associate head coach David Patrick and former UTEP coach Doc Sadler.
Golding will be paid a base salary of $400,000 with a $300,000 provision for speaking engagements and his coaches show, which totals his annual salary to $700,000, not including performance-based incentives.
“I think there are different ways to build programs,” Golding said. “Rodney had a way of doing it. We have a way of doing it. There's not a right way of building a program. For example, they were a gap team defensively. We're trying to bring more pressure. They were four out, one in offense. We have motion, we're five out and high low stuff.”
“Change is hard,” he continued. “Change is hard for me. It's been hard for my family. I'm having to learn new things. My guys are learning new things. There's a lot of change going on and we're just trying to continue to grow.”
Projected starting lineup & bench
What needs to be understood about the starting lineup is that this team will be very fluid with their fifth option alongside Bieniemy, Boum, Kennedy and Verhoeven. They are also still trying to figure out their rotation, which they might modify all the way up until C-USA play. The hope is to get to a 10-man rotation that they can use in league action.
"We got six bigs. We’d like to play four of those six in some form or fashion," Golding said. "It’s close. We could play 5 guards and four bigs so that's nine and maybe have a tenth guy in there. We’d like to get to 10. I think the way we play on both ends of the floor you have to have some depth to expect those guys to play."
- PG Jamal Bieniemy (JR, 6-5)
- SG Souley Boum (JR, 6-3)
- SG Keonte Kennedy (So, 6-5)
- PF Bonke Maring (So, 6-10)
- PF Tydus Verhoeven (Jr, 6-9)
- G Christian Agnew
- G Emmanuel White
- G Kezza Giffa (France)
- G/F Jorell Saterfield (Ranger College)
- F Jamari Sibley (Georgetown)
- F Alfred Hollins (Oregon State)
- F Ze’Rik Onyema
- F Gilles Dekoninck
- F Kevin Kalu (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel HS)
- G Cam Clardy
Players not returning
- F Eric Vila (Pro basketball, Spain)
- F Bryson Williams (Texas Tech transfer)
- F Kristian Sjolund (Portland State transfer)
- G Vuk Vulikic (UC San Diego transfer)
- G Adam Hess (Eastern New Mexico transfer)
Key returning players
Unlike previous years that featured a heap of key players transferring, Golding was able to keep a good nucleus intact at UTEP. He was able to bring back four of the five returning starters from last year, including Tydus Verhoeven, who had entered the transfer portal before Golding was hired.
Starters Jamal Bieniemy, Souley Boum, Keonte Kennedy and Verhoeven all returned for the fall, along with Christian Agnew returning off the bench. Role players like Emmanuel White, Ze’Rik Onyema, Gilles Dekoninck and Cam Clardy also return from last year’s squad.
Golding and his staff were tasked to recruit efficiently through a limited window and through obstacles brought on by the pandemic. They were able to bring in players that were highly sought after in high school and players looking for more playing opportunities.
Forwards Jamari Sibley (Georgetown) and Alfred Hollins (Oregon State) are two names that jump off the page right away for their upside. Sibley played in 21 games at Georgetown during his freshman year and totaled 25 points, 19 boards and two blocked shots. Hollins made 53 starts at Oregon State, where he averaged 17.9 minutes, 5.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. Both of these guys will have to earn their minutes.
Then, Golding dipped into the JUCO ranks for other summer transfers like Bonke Maring (Blinn) and Jorell Saterfield (Ranger College). Maring put up nearly a double-double last year in junior college, while Saterfield could be a nice 3-and-D player for this group off the bench. Point guard Kezza Giffa (France) and high school forward Kevin Kalu round out the newcomers on the team.
“Great talent,” Golding said about Sibley. “Very, very talented. Obviously, did not play a lot at Georgetown but got to play. He knows what a winning team, winning culture looks like. We're just trying to get Sibley to be more consistent.”
“Right now, we need to get him in shape,” Golding said on Hollins. “I do not think he's in game shape right now and we're trying to get in there. He hasn't played in a long time. He's a little undersized for what we're trying to go for the spot but he's always played that spot. I like his experience; I like his maturity level; I like his experience being in big games before.
Newcomer to watch: Bonke Maring. The Miners went into the offseason desperately in need of size. Maring, who is 6-foot-10, could find himself with extended playing time this year if he shows consistency on both ends. He averaged 12.6 points and 8.0 rebounds at Blinn College last year. Maring might look raw and inexperienced at times, but his upside is evident as a sophomore.
As a niche college basketball website, KenPom has advanced stats for every NCAA men’s Division I team, with archives that date back to 2002. One can find advanced analytics on teams, such as offensive/defensive efficiency numbers, projections and stats on tempo.
The Miners are ranked 154 in college basketball by KenPom, which is a lower ranking than their 136 finish in the 2020-21 season. Last year, the squad was 15th in 3-point defense ( 31%), 37th in turnover percentage (16.1%), 45th in free throw percentage (75.6%) and 131st in defense efficiency (100.2), per KenPom. This year, the squad is ranked 203 in offensive adjusted efficiency (98.4) and 119 in defensive adjusted efficiency (97.5) by KenPom. When they play at the Haskins Center, UTEP is 23rd in NCAA for home court advantage. Their projected record is 16-13 overall, 9-9 in C-USA by KenPom.
The Miners have a challenging two-month stretch, sprinkled with some winnable games at home before C-USA play gets underway. After their home opener, UTEP will have to turn around and travel to rivals NM State on Saturday, Nov. 13. The week after, they have a tough Pacific (Nov. 19) team on the road. Then, they will host two strong teams in UC Riverside (Nov. 22) and NMSU (Dec. 3) before facing Big 12 power Kansas (Dec. 7). New Mexico will come to the Haskins Center on Dec. 12, while the Sun Bowl Invitational will wrap up the non-conference slate.
“I think our schedule is really tough,” said Golding. “You look at the second game of the year we're going over to Las Cruces and will play in a pretty hostile environment. New Mexico State was picked to win the WAC, Kansas is going to win the Big 12, Pacific has moved up to the top end of the West Coast Conference… I think you want a non-conference schedule where you play different styles and play in different environments.”
One look at Conference USA and it appears to be a completely different league than it was in 2020-21, largely because of the transfer portal fiasco college basketball experienced this offseason with the implementation of the one-time transfer rule.
The Miners were picked to finish 10th in Conference USA by the league preseason poll. UAB (1st), LA Tech (2nd) and Western Kentucky (3rd) were picked to rule the league this year. However, with a lot of player turnover across the league, it’s hard to predict where any team will finish.
UTEP enters this conference slate looking for their first winning season in the conference since the 2017 season when the squad finished 12-6 and tied for third place in C-USA.
“This conference is kind of wide open,” Golding said. “There's a lot of turnover that ended up happening. I've got so much respect for this league. I know a bunch of these coaches personally. I know how good coaches they are. I know those great players in this league. There are great environments and great home court advantages so I'm excited about the challenge.”
Offensive MVP: Souley Boum
The preseason All C-USA honoree from Oakland is back for another year under Golding.
“From day one when I met with Souley, he kept saying, ‘coach, I’m coming back here,’” said Golding. “We had a bunch of people I'm sure coming at Souley. I’m not naive on that and he said from day one, ‘I’m coming back and all I wanna do is win. I don't care about any points I don't care about my preseason accolades. I just want to win.’ He’s a little bit banged up right now. He hasn't been able to participate in workouts but we're obviously a better team when he’s with us.”
Boum, who finished last year as a third-team All C-USA member, is one of the best pure scorers across the conference. He ranked third in C-USA for scoring (18.8 ppg) in 2020-21, and fifth for total points (450). He was atop the conference and 15th in NCAA for free throws made (130) and he ranked fourth across C-USA in 3-point percentage (38.7%).
This year, Boum will be asked to be extra efficient when scoring the ball. The redshirt junior has grown immensely since stepping foot on campus. He broke his finger during the offseason, but should be back by Saturday’s game against NMSU. After sitting out the 2019 season per NCAA transfer rules, he emerged as a sixth man and eventual starter in 2019-20. Last year, he led the Miners in scoring as the team’s best shooter.
Defensive MVP: Tydus Verhoeven
“He's a glue guy. He's a guy that does all the little things that don't show up in the paper. Tydus wins you games,” said Golding about Verhoeven.
Golding said it best when it comes to forward Tydus Verhoeven. One should be especially bullish on this redshirt junior campaign for Verhoeven. We’ve seen it all on the defensive side from the big man – 21 blocked shots, 4.4 rebounds per game in 24.8 minutes per game. Going back to the close loss against Kansas last year, Verhoeven had a whopping five blocked shots against a top-15 team in the country.
Even though he’s the team’s best interior defender, one area we will get to see more of Verhoeven this year will be his expanded role on offense. He led UTEP in field goal percentage in 2020-21 (62.7%), but he never had a true role in the offense. This year’s coaching staff wants to give him the freedom to stretch the floor and wants him to get confident with his outside jumper.
“With Tydus, he's got a good shot he just hasn't been able to do it,” Golding said. “It's a confidence deal with him. He's got a good shot, he just hasn't been able to do it. There’s wasn’t a role for him but the roles change. Tydus will see a different role offensively.”
Comeback player to watch: Jamal Bieniemy
The coaching staff is especially high on point guard Jamal Bieniemy going into this season. The former Oklahoma guard was a hit or miss in 2020-21, where he started in every game and logged 32.7 minutes per contest. He led UTEP in assists (92) and ranked sixth in C-USA for assists per game (4.0).
Specifically, the team wants Bieniemy to showcase his shooting talents this year. They believe that he took a big step forward as a shooter this offseason.
When I was interviewing Golding for the season preview, Bieniemy walked into his office. Golding wanted to interview the point guard on the record while I was there, and here's how the conversation went. ("JG" is Golding, "JB" is Bieniemy)
JG: "Sit down. JB—getting to ask you a question really quick. How have the last six months been with coach?"
JB: "Good, good. It's been going good."
JG: "What do you like about coach?"
JB: "You a truth-teller."
JG: "What do you not like about coach?"
JB: "Nothing bad."
JG: "What kind of year do you think you're going to have?"
JB: "A big year."
JG: "Coach mentions you a lot."—again, this is Joe Golding talking in the third person.—"Coach says that you can score the basketball a lot, you like that role, do you embrace that role? Are you excited about that?"
JB: "Yeah, I'm excited about that."
JG: "Coach says you have a chip on your shoulder. That they're going to get the same JB as last year. The one that JB isn't picked in the preseason picks. Coach says this is a new JB and coach says he's excited about coaching the new JB."
JB: "Yeah, 100%."
JG: "Coach judges point guards on one thing. What is that?"
JB: "On winning."
X-factor to watch: Christian "Saucy" Agnew
The North Alabama transfer emerged last year as a nice off-the-bench defender that could guard anyone on the perimeter. He finished the season averaging 6.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and totaled 14 steals. This year, Agnew can take a step up offensively by slowing down his approach and by limiting turnovers. His defensive intensity is one of the strongest attributes he brings to the squad.
As a defensive-minded coach, Golding appreciates what Saucy brings to the squad.
“He fits my personality,” Golding said on Agnew. “He's got a chip on his shoulder. He really plays the game hard. We love his motor and we love his energy his passion on the defensive side. He’s taking coaching really really well. I think Saucy will have a big role this year with our team and I think he's got it.”
Final season projection
This year could feature many things—excitement, frustration, high-intensity defense, growing pains and promise. But what Golding is trying to achieve at UTEP is to take the program to another level and to win back the fanbase. He's maintained that relationships between players and coaches will also be key for year one. Sure, they'll struggle at times. Other times, they will surprise teams. This is year one of setting the foundation for years to come.
Overal win projection: (17-12, 10-8 C-USA)